The longer that I’m left without the surgery I need, the more damage to my neck occurs, which has dangerous consequences. As we continue to try to fundraise the money needed for the urgent surgery and air ambulance flights (I’d be grateful for any donations: GoFundMe.com/savejenny), I have to fight harder and harder to stay alive as the situation deteriorates every day. It is relentlessly unbearable. Nobody should be left like this.
Thank you to everyone who has donated and who has helped spread my story and fundraising link on social media. We’ve still got a long way to go but I’m very grateful for the generosity and kindness of so many.
There’s going to be some exciting fundraising news coming very soon on this website. Watch for a new page to be added to the main menu in the coming weeks. It’ll be announced on my social media accounts too. It’s something completely different to everything we’ve tried so far in terms of fundraising. Fingers crossed.
You may know me for my poetry (my poetry collection ‘We Are The Winter People’ is raising money towards my surgery and is available as a paperback, audiobook and ebook here: https://mybook.to/WinterPeople) but my first love as a writer is actually prose (fiction). I do love writing poems but it’s out of necessity that I lean in that direction because I am physically and cognitively unable to write something as long as a novel. During the 17 years I’ve been ill, I’ve imagined, plotted and planned out two full novels in my head. If I can get my neck fixed enough that I’m able to type out my two books, then I’ll be the happiest person alive. That’s the dream. (They’d become best-selling phenomenons, obvs.)
Thank you to my family and friend who gave me the audiobooks below for Christmas. Audiobooks are all that I have left and they keep me going. I love writing my opinions of them here in my Audiobook Adventures. It’s increasingly hard for my brain to function as my neck becomes more damaged without the surgery to fix it, and a lot of the time I’m unable to understand/process words and sentences. Often I don’t feel like ‘me’ anymore, especially when I become so cognitively diminished. But I’ve managed to gradually cobble together the reviews below in the times that I am more ‘with it’. I can only hold my phone up to my eyes (it’s too dangerous to move my neck so I can’t look downwards to see the screen of my phone so I have to lift my phone above my head at eye level to see the screen) for roughly 30 seconds at a time so it’s taken a long time to gradually write these on my phone. Writing brings me great pleasure though so I consider it worth it, even if it’s not up to the standard that my perfectionist self would like. I love the thought that I might bring someone else joy if they read a book that they enjoy as a result of one of my reviews though.
Thankfully, with Audible, you can slow down the speed of the narration. Due to my brain being impaired, I can’t listen at the normal speed (x1); I have to listen to these audiobooks at 0.7 or 0.8 speed. Also, bear in mind that because I’m only hearing the words, not seeing them, I’m unaware of how names and places are meant to be spelled! I’ve just used my best guesses.
My Audiobook Adventure Reviews:
‘Miss Benson’s Beetle’ by Rachel Joyce
This is a delightful story of an unlikely friendship between two women. At first glance they appear to be polar opposites but as the friendship grows, they push each other out of their comfort zones and they grow immensely. Eventually they bring out the best in each other.
I’ve been fascinated by entomology since I was young (I used to love the enthusiasm and passion of entomologist George McGavin, who was part of a team of experts of various specialisms in the documentary series ‘Lost Land of the Volcano/Jaguar/Tiger’ and ‘Expedition Borneo’; watch them! They’re great). I’m also a sucker for a story that involves surviving in a jungle (‘The Explorer’ by Katherine Rundell is my favourite jungle story; I highly recommend checking it out). ‘Miss Benson’s Beetle’ combines those two interests of mine as the women travel across the world to look for a particular golden beetle in a far off island jungle. We gradually learn more about the two women and their backstories as they get to know each other.
What I didn’t enjoy were the parts of the book from the point of view of Mundic, a veteran who becomes Margery’s stalker. I would have just edited out all of those bits of the book. The story already has sufficient peril from Enid’s past catching up with the two women so the Mundic subplot was unnecessary and frustrating. At first I was angry because it felt like the author was giving a voice to a perpetrator and being an apologist for this sort of crime, trying to excuse or explain it with the veteran’s trauma and mental health issues. This is insulting to most of the other people in the world with trauma and mental health problems; they don’t go around stalking people or hurting others. But then I realised that the author was maybe doing something more clever than that. I don’t know if I’m correct but I think she might have been trying to demonstrate that as women, if we have a gut instinct that a man is dangerous, we often then dismiss it and think ‘oh, I’m just being silly, it’s probably fine’. The first gut feeling we have about this Mundic character in the book is ‘he’s dangerous; he’s going to end up hurting someone’ but what the author then does by having snippets from his point of view, is gradually erode that feeling and I even eventually found myself wondering if he was actually going to end up helping or saving the women in some way. This erosion mirrors what we often do to ourselves in our minds as we gaslight ourselves. But, of course, we were right to begin with. He is dangerous and it has tragic consequences.
Overall, I did enjoy this book, even if some parts seemed unrealistic and too convenient. The ending was too sad for me. However, there were a few times when a sentence or paragraph was incredibly powerful or resonated with me deeply; I found myself wishing that I were able to write it down to remember the quote. That’s a sign of a talented writer.
‘Want To Play?’ by P.J. Tracy
When I was still able to watch television, there were so many crime TV shows that I loved (White Collar, Castle, Rizzoli & Isles, Elementary, The Mentalist, Criminal Minds, Sherlock, Person of Interest, The Rookie, Psych, Hustle) but I’ve found it difficult to find crime books that are any good, let alone ones that are up to the standard of those television shows. The contemporary crime novels that I’ve tried so far, struggle with pacing (nothing happens for most of the book and then everything suddenly starts moving at the very end so you spend most of the book bored out of your mind) or they focus on being “atmospheric” (yawn) instead of having much of a plot or they have bland run-of-the-mill male protagonists. I tend to favour plot-heavy books with twists and surprise reveals, as well as great character development and unusual personalities, so I’m often left disappointed.
But huzzah! I’ve finally found a decent crime book. ‘Want to play?’ is an engaging story. I don’t want to say anything about the plot because the fun of crime novels is all about trying to figure out the mystery before the detectives in the book do! This novel is excellently paced and develops well. I didn’t want it to end. I must have liked it because I subsequently listened to the next four books in the series in succession. Fair warning, it was first published in 2003 and there are a couple of offensive words that aren’t acceptable and I’m sure those words wouldn’t get past publishers now. That doesn’t change that it’s a really good story.
I’d love any recommendations of brilliant contemporary crime novels that aren’t dull or detached, preferably with a female protagonist.
I gobbled up all of Agatha Christie’s books in my early teens so I don’t think there are any of those left for me to read! Plus I’m in the mood for something more current.
‘Cytonic’ (book #3 of the Skyward series) by Brandon Sanderson; ‘Sunreach’, ‘ReDawn’ and ‘Evershore’ (novellas #1, #2 and #3 of the Skyward Flight series) by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson
No matter what genre of book you usually like or dislike, the Skyward series transcends these usual preferences in a similar way to how Harry Potter and The Hunger Games do. Unless you embark on them deliberately determined to dislike them, you are going to love them because the stories are just that good. So I recommend that you give Skyward a try, even if science fiction isn’t usually your thing. It’s nigh impossible not to enjoy it.
I wrote about how much I loved the first two books in the Skyward series in My Audiobook Adventures #2. I have since read the next books in the order that they were intended: Sunreach, ReDawn, Cytonic then Evershore (i.e. the first two novellas, then the actual book 3 of the main series, then the third novella). I’m so glad that I did; I definitely recommend reading them in this order.
I was surprised that what I loved most was the opposite to what I was expecting. I thought that I was going to be blown away by the book of the main series but that I wouldn’t be quite so keen on the novellas; the reverse turned out to be the case. These novellas are awesome, especially Sunreach and Evershore. They are brilliantly done and the individual plots are incredibly satisfying and exciting. All three are worth it on their own merit and also for their place in the overarching narrative. The strength of the Skyward series is in the friendships, tension, warmth and humour within Skyward Flight; it feels joyful and like coming home to be back with those characters together (apart from Spensa, of course, who is off on her own). I’d really missed them.
In Sunreach and Evershore, I especially love the parts when the characters are figuring out things about the taynix, the different types, what they can do, and the growing understanding and relationships with the creatures. Those slugs are the best; I can’t get enough of them. They’re so original, unique and interesting.
The novellas each build beautifully into well-earned and thrilling culminations. As always with Sanderson, the plotting is masterful, rich and intricately fits together.
‘Cytonic’, like the previous two books in the main series, is from Spensa’s point of view. As much as I love Spensa, I miss her being with the rest of her Flight (I missed this in Starsight as well but I thought it was only going to last for that book). I know that the plot requires her to be off on her own but I can’t help feel that the books are weaker because of it. But comparatively, compared to most other books in existence, Cytonic is still brilliant; it’s just that Brandon Sanderson has set the benchmark so high that it’s not quite as good as the stunning first book of the Skyward series.
I don’t find the fragment landscape of the belt of the Nowhere as interesting as I think we’re meant to find it. Annoyingly we keep on being told, through Spensa’s enthusiasm, that it’s an exciting adventure to explore this place but the journey across the different biome fragments feels like filler and boring ‘waiting room’ time between finding out the juicy stuff – the things we really want to discover – in the memories of the ancient cytonics in the portal stones. I got impatient at the extended stay with the Broadsiders and the fuzziness of losing memories and personality. I didn’t expect that the whole book would be spent in the Nowhere and was disappointed that it wasn’t until the very end that everyone was reunited.
I’m avoiding the main spoilers and revelations because I don’t want to ruin the books for anyone. That also means, however, that I can’t comment on the best parts of the book!
Before these four books, M-Bot was my favourite but he became a bit irritating. I like the slugs best, plus FM and Rig too. They’re my favourites now.
If you’ve read these books, I’d love to know your thoughts on them in the comments. Do you agree/disagree with me? How did they compare with your expectations?
I truly believe that Brandon Sanderson is one of the greatest writers ever to have lived, what with his incredible imagination and writing ability. In my opinion, his fantasy series ‘The Stormlight Archive’ is his masterpiece; you can read how much I loved and admired it here in My Favourite Books. Each book in that series is a whopper in length though and requires quite a commitment. The ‘Skyward’ series is more accessible in terms of length and immediacy so it might be a better place to start as an introduction to his work if you haven’t read any Brandon Sanderson before. Lots of people prefer the ‘Mistborn’ trilogy, which I did enjoy too, but I personally prefer ‘The Stormlight Archive’ and the ‘Skyward’ series. If you’ve fallen out of love with reading, Skyward might just be the ticket to get you back to enjoying books again.
‘Acting Up: Me, Myself and Irene’ by Lynne McGranger
This autobiography zips along with Lynne McGranger’s dry self-deprecating wit and exuberant, chatty style so that you don’t even notice time passing. The audiobook is wonderful because it’s narrated by Lynne herself so that you hear her inflection and tone, which can change the way you perceive the meaning. Plus it’s nice to hear her distinctive and familiar voice.
Although the voice is familiar, the person behind it is something new and unexpected (in a good way). Obviously I knew that Lynne would be a different personality to her character Irene in ‘Home & Away’ but it was interesting to get to know the real person behind the character a little. Her vibrancy and liveliness shine.
It was absorbing to hear about her experiences growing up in post-war Australia, her relationship with her parents and her journey to becoming an actor. People and cultures are endlessly fascinating to me and I enjoyed learning how she came to be the person that she is now and all the struggles that she has faced. Lynne is refreshingly honest, touching and down to earth when discussing her grapples with an eating disorder, an abortion, drugs, a miscarriage, God and grief.
I started watching ‘Home & Away’ in 2007 and didn’t miss an episode all the way until my disastrous surgery in January 2020, after which I wasn’t able to watch television anymore. I miss my daily Summer Bay fix (if anyone knows where I can legally listen to audio described episodes of Home & Away in the UK, preferably dating back two and a quarter years so that I can listen to all that I’ve missed, let me know!). I enjoyed getting the lowdown of how ‘Home & Away’ is filmed and Lynne’s account of some of the behind-the-scenes action.
I recommend this book, especially if you’re a ‘Home & Away’ fan, but also if you’re just interested in other people and their stories.
‘Red Rising’ by Pierce Brown
My very favourite stories are those where a character has to stand up against an evil regime that governs with a controlling and cruel grip, and that character has to work against them in the hopes of overthrowing them and making a better, fairer world. ‘Red Rising’ falls into that genre but with a science fiction setting.
After a bit of a slow start, this book really gets going after the Truman Show-sized revelation that the main character’s life and everything that he’s ever known is a lie. Once we get past that and realise that he’s going to have to infiltrate The Society and be accepted to the Institute, I became very excited for what I thought was going to come (a school-esque learning setting where he would have to befriend his enemies and rise up the ranks). I enjoyed the process of him learning the accent, speech and etiquette of the people he is about to infiltrate.
On the first night at this Institute however, the students are removed from that location. Things get turned on their head and the story becomes a whole different beast. They are taken to a valley and the “school” is a bit like surviving in the arena in the Hunger Games but with students divided into different teams (houses), each with their own base castle, with the victor being the team that conquers the others. What follows is pretty unstructured, brutal and chaotic but we get to know a whole cast of characters. I’d have preferred to see the main character develop and devise an interesting and proper strategy. The bits I enjoyed most were when he and the other characters made a clever play to win another team’s base.
The ending is exciting but, again, it’s more a result of force than any clever strategy.
Overall, it’s very entertaining but it could have been even better, I think. I was genuinely devastated when a certain character died so the author definitely did something right. It’s still better than most books out there and worth a read/listen. I’m looking forward to listening to the next two books in the series and seeing whether the main character is successful in creating a better world in the end.
[Update from future Jenny: I am currently listening to the second book in this series and it’s brilliant. I now LOVE this series. This book (‘Golden Son’) is incredible and expands so much; it’s rich, thrilling and cleverly plotted. Looking back on the first book now with hindsight, it was building a platform from which this series could soar, developing the characters and establishing the world. I definitely recommend this series – read it! But woah, this author is worse than George R.R. Martin in killing off characters.]
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
My parents read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to my brothers and me when we were very young (I was 6 years old maybe?). Although my brothers loved them, I wasn’t quite so enamoured, which was unusual because fantasy was my favourite book genre throughout my childhood and teens. At that young age though, there were some bits of Lord of the Rings that I found a bit dry and slow and I probably got distracted with doodling/drawing while listening. When the first film came out when I was 15, I had forgotten most of the story and was mainly excited on behalf of my brothers when we arrived at the cinema. The excitement displayed itself, not annoyingly at all *cough*, by me nudging them about twice every second right up until the film started.
But oh. It was the best surprise when my socks were knocked off in the most spectacular fashion. I was in a speechless sort of hallowed shock afterwards. I had never seen anything like it before. I was awestruck and loved it so much.
My brothers and I watched the DVDs over and over and over and over, as well as watching all of the hours and hours and hours of extras. I knew the films off by heart and I eventually decided not to rewatch them for a long time so that they would regain their specialness.
Then I became ill and ended up not rewatching the trilogy until 2019! It was surreal to see it again. Not only was I emotional at the momentous occasion but it was added to by the fact that the last time I had watched it, I had been healthy, physically strong and sporty. Watching it transported me right back to that time and it was overwhelming: all the ghosts of all the hopes and dreams that I’d had at that age, which were stolen by illness.
Then a few months ago, I found out about ‘The Friendship Onion’ podcast, which is made by the actors who played Merry and Pippin in the films. I went back to the first episode and binge-listened to all the episodes! It was like coming back to old friends. I remember them so clearly in the DVD extras, being funny, all the stories they told and the camaraderie of the cast. So I’ve been loving listening to that podcast weekly. It also reignited my interest in the books. I barely remembered them and hadn’t ever given them another chance. So I proceeded to listen to them all (the Andy Serkis-narrated audiobooks).
I was pleasantly surprised by them. I wasn’t expecting to be. I assumed, from my childhood remembrances, that the books were dry and boring.
I loved finding out what “really” happened and was fascinated by the differences between the books and films. These were the ones hat struck me most:
• The time scales were a lot different all the way through (there were 17 years between Bilbo’s party and when Frodo left! Frodo was in his 50s!) and they spent a lot longer in some locations.
• Merry didn’t start out from Hobbiton with the other three!
• Farmer Maggot was a force for good!
• Weathertop wasn’t the hobbits’ fault!
• Arwen has next to no role in the books. Frodo was on the horse by himself being chased up to the Ford before Rivendell.
• Rivendell is basically just a house in a valley!
• It was Aragorn who pushed to go through the mountains and Gandalf who was pushing to go through Moria, not Gimli!
• Galadriel has a husband, who seems to have been erased in the films!
• “The world has changed, I feel it in the water etc” – those were Treebeard’s lines, not Galadriel’s!
• A lot of the Ent/huorn content was taken out in the films. The huorns were the ones who saved the day at Helm’s Deep! No elves/Haldir came (what a random thing to add to the films).
• Eomer was at Helm’s Deep from the start of the battle; Gandalf fetched other riders of Rohan, not him.
• Eowyn and the other women and children of Rohan didn’t travel with the men on the way to Helm’s Deep; they evacuated separately to a different place.
• The battle at Minas Tirith/Pelennor fields seemed a lot bigger deal in the books than Helm’s Deep, which felt the reverse in the films!
• The army of the dead didn’t go as far as the Pelennor fields, only to the boats; they didn’t seem as powerful, only being able to strike fear into people, which caused them to drown or run away, but not directly kill them. It wasn’t them who saved the day!
Sam and Faramir were revelations in the books and became my favourite characters. This was very different from the films, where Aragorn, Gandalf and Pippin had been my favourites. In the books, Aragorn felt more remote and detached; it was hard to connect with him. I felt distanced from him as a reader (listener). Sam was the most relatable character and provided the way ‘in’ to connect with the story; he was the only character that Tolkien let us in to hear his internal monologue, especially towards the end. I liked being inside his head for all his thought processes (which were often quite amusing) and decision-making, always thinking he would make the wrong choice. All the bits with Faramir were some of the most interesting and enjoyable. I liked Pippin a lot too. I actively disliked Aragorn by the end; they definitely made him a lot more likeable in the films. I hated how condescending and sexist he was towards Eowyn and the way he treated her in general.
My favourite part was probably from the bottom of Mount Doom onwards, as it all got too much for Frodo and as Sam came into his own. I loved all the dramatic bits as Sauron realised what was happening, the struggle with the ring, Mordor being torn apart when it was all done and the eagles coming. I also liked when everything was restored in the Shire with Sam’s gift from Galadriel.
The landscape descriptions were…not…my favourite. I don’t like descriptive writing; it doesn’t hold my attention or concentration. Also, suddenly Tolkien would say a compass direction and I realised that I had visualised the directions/locations incorrectly and I was facing the wrong way and I had to reimagine landscapes and places in the correct direction and reposition myself before restarting along my journey! If I’d been able to look at a map of Middle Earth I think that might have helped me get my bearings more rather than relying on descriptions. I think I did pretty well all in all though and figured it out.
The bits in Hobbiton, both at the beginning and very end were some of my favourite parts too.
A random thing that I noticed was that Tolkien used the word ‘amaze’ several times in this kind of context: “he stared at it in amaze.” I wonder when the word ‘amazement’ first came into use and presumably it existed alongside ‘amaze’ before taking over in popularity. I wonder if ‘amaze’ was considered more proper or more grammatically correct for a while.
Congratulations if you’ve made it this far to the end of these reviews! I still have a few audiobooks left that I was given for Christmas, including ‘Leviathan Wakes’ and ‘The Fifth Season’, but I’m always looking for more recommendations of books to read (though make sure they’re available as audiobooks first!). Leave a comment below telling me about a book you love, what you’ve been reading or if you have opinions about my reviews above!